Lakers 96, Rockets 93

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HOUSTON (AP)—Yao Ming again matched up well with Shaquille O’Neal. It was Kobe Bryant who calmly made the go-ahead jumper over Yao, though.

Bryant hit the jumper with 32 seconds to play, and the Los Angeles Lakers rallied from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Houston Rockets 96-93 Wednesday night.

“He brought a lot of energy to us,” O’Neal said of Bryant. “He played particularly well in the fourth quarter. We made a lot of mistakes in the third quarter, a lot of turnovers and he helped us overcome that down the stretch.”

After leading 75-64 with 10:59 to play, the Rockets got their final lead at 93-92 on a basket by Jim Jackson with 39 seconds to play but Bryant made a 22-footer seconds later and Derek Fisher completed the rally with two free throws with 9.8 seconds left.

Bryant missed Tuesday night’s 94-93 loss at Atlanta while attending court proceedings in Colorado.

“I only missed one game, it wasn’t tough to get back,” Bryant said. “I was shocked when I saw the score last night. So this game was critical. We couldn’t come out and drop another one. We’ve got to turn it up right now.”

Yao had 33 points and eight rebounds for the Rockets. Bryant, who missed Tuesday night’s loss at Atlanta, finished with 18 points.

“It was a big shot (Bryant), this was a game we should have gotten,” Yao said. “We had a double-digit lead and they were able to close it. They just made a few less mistakes but I didn’t think we made a lot of mistakes.”

The Lakers, who have won eight of 10, beat the Rockets for the first time in three games this season.

“We had some other guys making key shots down the stretch,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “I put a team on the floor in the fourth quarter that I thought could score and give us a chance to win.”

Bryant hit 7-for-19 from the field and his 13 assists were two short of his career high

“He found out early that he wasn’t shooting well, but he got 13 assists and helped us in a lot of other ways until his shooting came around,” Jackson said. “He changed his game around to accommodate what was working.”

The Lakers were down 81-71 with 7:45 to play when O’Neal started the rally with a three-point play and a goaltending basket. Fisher hit a 3-pointer and Luke Walton’s 3 with 5:16 to play gave Los Angeles an 82-81 lead.

Walton tied it again at 87 with another 3-pointer and after missing two free throws that would have given the Lakers the lead, O’Neal scooped up a loose ball from Steve Francis and slammed it home with 2:19 to play.

Francis hit a layup with 1:48 to go but Gary Payton sank a go-ahead 3-pointer for a 92-89 lead. Stanislav Medvedenko committed his sixth foul and Francis hit both free throws before Jackson’s basket gave the Rockets their final lead.

Yao helped the Rockets take a 53-43 halftime lead in a big second quarter charge and he had eight more points early in the third before picking up his third and fourth fouls.

The Rockets kept the lead anyway, going into the fourth quarter ahead 71-62 with Yao briefly on the bench.

The Rockets trailed much of the first half until they went on a 21-9 run. They started the spurt by scoring 14 straight points and holding the Lakers scoreless for 6:06.

Gary Payton had 11 points in the first quarter, including two baskets in a late 8-3 run for a 29-25 lead at the end of the period.

“If you are up going into the fourth quarter and you score 22 but you giveup 34, your problem is defensively,” Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said.

Notes

Maurice Taylor is second in the NBA to Sacramento’s Bobby Jackson in scoring average for players without a start this season. Taylor is averaging 11.3 points per game. … Francis went 9-for-11 the last time the Rockets played the Lakers on Feb. 11. He’s having an off year shooting, hitting 29.5 percent from the field and 16 percent of his 3-point shots. … The Lakers are 9-6 in the first game and 7-8 in the second game of back to backs this season. … Bryant has missed 15 games this season because of injuries and courtappearances.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 LA Lakers
K. Bryant K. Bryant
7-19,  18 Pts
8 Rebs, 13 Assists
 Houston
Y. Ming Y. Ming
13-21,  33 Pts
8 Rebs, 1 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists